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Using Microsoft Exchange PST Capture

Dan Paquette

3 min read

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Since the advent of the technology, email administrators have had to figure out how to store all of the messages that we send and receive.  In Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Outlook environments, PST files have long been the storage mechanism of last resort.  The downsides of PST use have already been written about at length and just about every Exchange administrator is familiar with the battle to minimize the use of this technology.

Established archiving vendors have developed tools that address the question of managing PST files.  HP/Autonomy EAS can do an agentless search of individual network storage locations.  Symantec Enterprise Vault has an entire suite of tools that can do agent-based as well as agentless searches of individual locations or an entire network.  Both of these tools can find PST files, identify the user to whom the file belongs, move the files to a central staging space and then import the content into the user’s archive.

Firms that use Exchange’s new-to-Exchange-2010 native archiving had limited options when it came to managing PST files:  Administrators could manually import PST files into a user’s production or archive mailbox from the Exchange Management Shell or users could migrate data into either repository through the Outlook client.  However, both of these options have limited application in an enterprise-wide effort to manage email data.  Both options require someone – the Exchange administrator or the user – to know about the presence and location of the PST file.  In a large organization, it’s easy for rarely used files to fall through the cracks.  And while pushing the responsibility of infrastructure or data management to users is never a good idea, users that upload data through Outlook do so at the expense of their ability to use that client.  This will all but guarantee a near-zero uptake of this feature.

Microsoft released the PST Capture tool to address this concern.  The tool is a 10 MB download that needs to be installed on a server that already has the Microsoft Exchange Management Tools – an established HTS/CAS server or dedicated management server are both viable candidates.  The required agents – both x86 and x64 are available at the time of this writing – are even smaller MSI installations.  The MSI can be installed on a firm’s workstations using its existing application delivery platform (SCCM, Prism, etc.)   The tool also requires the credentials of an administrative user with the Import/Export RBAC rights necessary to import PST files as well as the NTFS file rights to search folders on each computer to be searched.

Recently, I had a chance to look at this free tool and had a generally good impression about it.

Searches are configured via a 4-step wizard.  You’re first asked to identify the computers to be searched.  You then identify the locations to be searched on each workstation.  Common system folders (C:Windows and C:Program Files) can be excluded to expedite searches.  An administrator can configure a search to run ASAP or schedule when the search should begin.  Finally, the administrator is asked to review and confirm the settings for the search before the tool prepares it for execution.

The agents installed on servers and workstations across the network will periodically poll the target server for new search tasks.  Any computers identified by the search that do not have the agent software will never find this task and therefore not be searched.  Once a search has completed on a workstation, it will report the files it found to the PST Capture server.  An administrator can select which files will be imported and confirm the ownership of each PST file.  Selected PSTs will be copied to a central location first before being imported.  PST files must not be opened or in use for this process.  Once the PST files have been copied to the central location, they are imported to Exchange production or archive mailboxes.

Because this tool interfaces directly with Microsoft Exchange, there are a couple of interesting features not found in comparable packages.  This tool can import the contents of PST files directly into a user’s production on-premises or Office 365 mailbox in addition to the archive mailbox.  The tool can import email (ipm.note) data, calendar (ipm.calendar) data, other mailbox data (data that is not ipm.note or ipm.calendar including contacts, tasks, notes) or any combination of these three.  The tool can reject entire PST files that contain a configurable number of corrupted messages.

The tool does this while maintaining similar functionality to that found in comparable tools, including having the option of creating mailbox folders for each PST file imported or bringing all the data into one hierarchy.

While the necessity of client agents for this tool to work isn’t ideal, I would have no concerns recommending this tool to any firm that is trying to regain control of their mail data and wants to remove PST files from their environment.